Some relatives of World
Trade Center victims, contending that the space
beneath the Twin Towers will forever be sacred ground,
are insisting that nothing permanent be built under
the towers' footprints - a demand that would require
rerouting the PATH rail lines and station.
"Six stories down is where most of the remains
were found, and we want to respect that," said
Monica Iken, leader of September's Mission, one of
groups representing Sept. 11 victims. "It was the
final resting space." The prospect of underground
construction has caused a rift among the different
groups. While they share the conviction that the
towers' footprints should be preserved above ground,
some family leaders are willing to accept the presence
of rail lines and other infrastructure below.
"The reality is, for someone to say the footprint
has to be preserved and there
can't be anything in there, they're not recognizing
the real world," said Tom
Rogér, whose daughter was a flight attendant on the
plane that hit the north
tower, and who is vice president of Families of
September 11. The divide over underground development
is just one aspect of the Ground Zero dilemma.
Even though it has been excavated, many families
consider the site to be inhabited by the ghosts of
their loved ones. But it's also a crucial component of
the region's economy. So whatever gets built there
will likely contain some mix of the sacred and
profane. The relatives' reactions to underground
construction depends to a large extent on their
spiritual beliefs, said Nikki Stern, a Plainsboro
resident who is one of several family advisers to the
Lower Manhattan Development Corp., the agency charged
with rebuilding the site. "It's not a personal
issue with me, but I realize it is for others,"
said Stern, whose husband, an executive at Marsh &
McLennan, died in the north tower. "So I don't
think it's dismissible."
Before Sept. 11, the PATH tubes - which carried 65,000
passengers a day from New Jersey - passed beneath the
south tower. The Port Authority of New York and New
Jersey, which operates PATH, is reconstructing a
temporary line, due to open in December 2003,
that will follow the previous alignment. In the long
term, Port Authority officials are considering two
plans. In one scenario, the PATH
lines would stay put. Under the other, the lines would
extend farther west to Church Street and possibly
skirt the south tower's footprint. "They
can essentially move the tracks," Iken said.
"They don't have to put them back where they
were. It's very simple for them to take a track and
move it over."
Greg Trevor, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said
avoiding the south tower's footprints "would
present a significant planning, engineering, and
construction challenge. "But the Port Authority
is listening to all interested parties, so that we can
work together and reach a consensus on the best
solution," he said. He added that the Port
Authority, which lost 75 of its own employees Sept.
11, is committed to respecting the dead.
"Creating a significant space for a permanent,
lasting, and fitting memorial is the top
priority," he said.
Iken's group joined with several others to press a
demand for preservation of the footprints, both above
and below ground. Calling themselves the
Coalition of 9/11 Families, they declared earlier this
month in a position paper: "The site must be
treated with all of the reverence due to a hallowed
burial ground. For many families, it does and will
represent the final resting place of their loved ones.
The entire site is a graveyard without tombstones for
But at least one family
group, Families of September 11, believes that
restoration of the PATH lines could actually be a
tribute to the victims. "There are a lot of
families that say, 'Well, it was there before, and it
was part of the original
setup, so what better way to memorialize what was
there than to put that back into operation?'"
said Rogér, the group's vice-president.
It's unclear which view predominates among the
relatives of the more than 2,800 who perished Sept.
11. Iken believes the coalition's adamant stance
represents the majority view. Others contend that most
families are willing to accept below-ground
construction. "I really do feel that ... if it's
a question of economic development, and a lot of money
and a lot of time that will have to be added to the
budget and the schedule in order to move the
infrastructure, people would choose to keep the
infrastructure the way it is now," said a family
adviser to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. who
asked that her name not be used.
The Port Authority is also proposing another piercing
of the towers' footprints: an underground pedestrian
concourse. The 3,000-foot walkway, which would connect
the World Financial Center ferry terminal, the PATH
station, and a new transit center on Broadway, would
pass directly beneath the spot where the north tower
stood. That proposal meets with more widespread
opposition from family groups, who fear the concourse
will contain shops and fast-food outlets that would
desecrate the memorial above. Family representatives
want the concourse moved at least one block north,
away from the tower's footprint.
Officials have said the concourse, which officials
hope to complete by 2008, would be clearly delineated
as part of the memorial zone. But Rogér is skeptical.
"Oh, sure," he said. "Somebody's
running from the ferry to catch their subway, and
they're going to stop and genuflect as they go
through?" Stern, one of several family advisers
to the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., said she and
others are waiting to hear from transportation
officials about the difficulty of avoiding the
footprints. "I'd like to hear whether it's
doable, because it would make life easier for
everyone," she said. "And if it's not
doable, I'd like to know why it's not doable."
Brian Kladko's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org